Review: Half journeyman, half David Lynch bar scene, all twisted crooner-dom, and at least a little tongue in cheek, Mike Patton & Jean Claude Vannier are aiming straight for the alternatives with this 12-strong collection of bizarre ballads and obscure odes that will appeal to rarer tastebuds. There's the spoken word and strummed guitars guiding us through the various parts of "A Schoolgirl's Day". The Sinatra-does-sarcasm of closer "Pink & Bleue", and the way "Hungry Ghost" aurally recalls "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen. Truly unique stuff, despite its debt of gratitude to troubadour totems, counterculture rock and The Rat Pack, it's as rooted in the 21st Century as anything you'll hear today. The production process involved two creators in two different parts of the world, Patton and band in L.A., Vannier with a full orchestra in Vienna. Not that you can tell considering how complete the record feels.
Review: Considering their penchant for spinning yarns and the cinematographically-suited nature of much of their work, it's surprising "Days Of The Bagnold Summer" is only Belle & Sebastian's second shot at a movie score. The last was 2001's '"Storytelling", accompanying Todd Solondz's movie of the same name, and they certainly did a good job then. So, high expectations this time round. For those unfamiliar, their latest foray into the film world partners the directorial debut of Simon Bird, best known to many as one of "The Inbetweeners". The flick, an adaptation of Joff Winterhart's 2012 graphic novel, chronicles the life and times of a teenage metalhead and his single mother. The album perfectly accompanies but also contributes to that tale. Highly emotive instrumental tracks and classic B&S songs-proper, this OST is destined to go down well with the band's true believers.
Review: There has been plenty said about debutants L'Epee since their single "Dreams" turned heads back in spring. Combining the talents of Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre), French artist Emmanuelle Seigner, and polished-to-a-sheen pop outfit The Liminanas, it's one of the most refreshing (and French) things you're likely to hear all year. That's more of a reference to the cinematic feeling that defines the album, owing much to the femme fatale vocal delivery, rather than the language each line is sung in. At once evoking the smoky cool of Serge Gainsbourg and the opiate moods of The Velvet Underground, "Diabolique" feels born in a time when psychedelic experimentation and chart topping music weren't mutually exclusive. At once sophisticated and hedonistic, it's a sexy, sensual and overwhelmingly seductive effort everyone should turn themselves on to.
Review: If there were still justice in the digital age, and artists really got what was owed to them exposure-wise, Alex Cameron would be a safe bet for leftfield pop sensation. A multi-faceted songwriter, his previous two albums took us through a horror show of horrible characters and their innermost thoughts, twin roads that have somehow veered onto another course altogether for "Miami Memory". Here a much friendlier face is donned. Nevertheless, opener "Stepdad" makes intentions clear, with uptempo keyboard lines invoking the emotional qualities of mid-80s Prince. "Far From Born Again" tells the story of a "her" who's making bad choices, and the potential fallout of that, set to a Bruce Springsteen-sounding chorus, the likes of which can be found again on "Divorce". Not holding back, but instead holding a light up to a different side of his personality, it's Cameron's most positive to date and his best.
Review: There's a stripped-down aesthetic to Chelsea Wolfe's return to the release schedule. It's not that 2017's "Hiss Spun", or "Abyss" two years earlier, were overblown. But here she pares things back to the essentials, with many tracks beginning on just vocals and a splash of acoustic guitar. The result shows off the raw talent at work, in turn offering a clear explanation of her enduring popularity. Despite the often minimalistic arrangements, "Birth Of Violence" is deceptively complex. Wolfe has explained it was inspired by exhaustion following perpetual tours and endless time on the road. You can certainly feel that. Her voice sounds as though it's hoping for hope, a change that feels almost out of reach but not unthinkable. It's a dark, desolate place at times, but in other moments packed with a determined energy and self-belief that things must always progress. Descriptions aside, believe us that this is completely unmissable.
Review: You could almost be forgiven for thinking "Dance Through It", track five on this warm and groovy outing from Twin Peaks, was the work of Simply Red. Guitar licks and funky keyboards are set to a leisurely tempo, the song itself telling the story of a girl with something to hide, who uses musical expression - specifically dance - to mask those issues. Heartfelt narrative meets soulful pop; need we say more? Well, maybe, so here's a little extra. Most of what's here is worthy of a feel good film score, from the anthemic chorus of southern rock 'n' roll effort "Oh Mama", to the pared back sing-along opener "Casey's Groove". As such it should go without saying fans of country, AOR, and (proper) R&B should already have the title and band noted down and marked up for immediate purchase.
Review: The last ten years have seen no shortage of bands with their delay pedals set to stun intent on capturing an aura of dreamlike radiance. Yet Texas 'pop-noir' troupe Cigarettes After Sex are no ordinary shoegazers, for a variety of reasons - frontman Greg Gonzalez' androgynous and dulcet tones may be part of the appeal, yet moreover it's the quality of the songwriting here, which never falls prey to the style-over-substance traps of their peers. Indeed, this debut is more than enough to justify the considerable hype around this outfit, being a collection of ditties as sultry as they are atmopsheric.
Review: Don't believe everything you read - the fifth Bat For Lashes album confirms this girl (or woman) found herself musically and thematically some time ago, freeing up creative energy to explore new approaches to deliver her often mournful, always heartfelt songs inspired by personal crises and private longings. On this outing there's more than a hint of 1980s pop evident in the mix. Shades of Prince ("Feel For You"), Madonna ("So Good"), Bowie's Berlin days and electro-era Gary Numan (the stunning, infectious instrumental "Vampires") cast the record in a nostalgia that suits the sense of yearning that always seems to pervade Natasha Khan's work. Simply name-checking reference points is lazy and unfair, though. This is an incredible collection of tracks moulded in the artist's own image - bold, beautiful and instantly captivating. Then again, it would be surprising if anyone had expected anything less.
Review: Time marches relentlessly on as does the immortal sound of iconic Manchester band Joy Division. At the heart of Unknown Pleasures was the alarming vocal talent of Ian Curtis. His alien wails, echoed expressionistic vistas of urban alienation over No Wave tribal beats and Gothic guitar impressions. And despite the breathtaking intensity of the angular acid comedown "She's Lost Control", the soaringly depraved detachment of "New Dawn Fades" and the proto-slowcore "Candidate", opening track "Disorder" remained the piece years ahead of its time and most immediately enduring. This anniversary record arrives almost forty years to the day after it was originally released, splashed out on 180g ruby red vinyl with an alternative white sleeve to resemble the original and legendary cover design. Unquestionably authentic, Unknown Pleasures was a vision so uncompromising and haunting that each track was worth its length. This commemorative reissue, then, continues the celebration of one of the most important albums of our time as well as highlighting the record as a landmark in music-design crossover history.
Review: From the moment opening track "Giving Up" hits you with its timeless pop rock romanticism you're immediately transported to some bygone era, when the charts really meant something, everything on the radio inspired boy-meeting-girl, vice versa, or indeed non-binary-meeting-non-binary. You know - when things were right with the world. Dangerously close to pastiche, the quality of the songwriting and infectious instrumentation elevate this second long form from Chicago's greatest hope(s) to a whole other level. Listen to the brass work on "Rhododendron", a jaunty walk in the park after that surprisingly good first date. "Valleys (My Love)" anthemic chorus and lilting strings. The crooning guitars of "Before I Know It". These tracks pay homage to golden era love songs, when mainstream was experimental because so little had come before. And yet they all stand up today - mesmerising proof that fashions come and go, but style is omnipresent.
Review: Troubadour for the dejected, rejected, never-did-fits, Ezra Furman deserves to be ranked among the greatest songwriters of our time. On "Twelve Nudes" he takes the hard-learnt lessons of previous records and channels that anger, desperation, euphoria, fear and hope into an impassioned call to arms - his finest since "Perpetual Motion People". In many ways, this is a far more positive outing, too, or at least one that largely keeps the focus on big noise. "My Teeth Hurt" and "Thermometer" are ferocious, head-banging whirlwinds. "Evening Prayer aka Justice" throws fists to the air with protest-esque pride. "Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone" offers Northern Soul-leaning drums and rhythms. Of course, there's still room for freaky, introspective rockabilly melancholia - namely "I Wanna be Your Girlfriend". Like Furman himself on-stage, it's unashamed and unwilling to compromise, making for one of this year's finest bloody-lipped, sweat-soaked rock 'n' roll records.
Review: By the time you reach the muffled, eccentric opening bars of "Tenderness", just past halfway on "Anak Ko", Jay Som's remit is clear. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter has left her shoes, or rather shoegaze, behind. This time she's walking barefoot through a lo-fi musical tapestry, baring soles and heartbreak while musing on the importance of self-value. Highlights are plentiful throughout, from the head-noddingly agreeable "Nighttime Drive" to the jerking, grunge-y "Peace Out", it's equal parts gorgeous and effortlessly- not to mention breathily- cool, sexy and surprising. Perhaps what's most reassuring, though, is that there's every chance this could all come across as affected and a little too self-aware. Nothing could be further from the truth from what we can hear- an honest work representing the next step in the evolution of a truly exciting American indie talent.
Review: You know the crew mean business, or at least mean not to give a flying guitar what you think, when they call themselves Tropical Fuck Storm. Perhaps what's most surprising, then, is the troupe's second album proves beyond doubt that despite the name, their music is accomplished and, while challenging at times, instantly enjoyable. The fact that Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin are also members of The Drones should tell you everything there is to know here. TFS is as logical a progression into an artsy, unpolished and unapologetic unknown as could ever be possible when you consider these guys are disinterested in playing anything by numbers. Logic is perhaps not the operative word, then. Like the unkept character propping up your local bar who suddenly reveals themselves to be a borderline-musical genius, respectfully avoiding the cliche of addressing individual tracks is the least we can do.
Review: "In Rainbows", Radiohead's seventh album, finally gets a physical release! It's one thing downloading this landmark album, but to actually hold this is something special. Not only do you get increased sound quality, but you also get the amazing artwork from Stanley Donwood. This album includes "Nude", a live favourite for many years that was originally written during the "OK Computer" sessions. More minimal that their "Kid A" period, "In Rainbows" does something that very few albums have done - its sound is distinct from previous Radiohead albums, but is still clearly Radiohead. Hail to the kings, they are back on top form. Get this album while you can.